Monday, 30 November 2015

The Life of Pi (5 Stars)

30 films to watch before you die, #30

After a month of watching and (almost) reviewing the 30 films I consider to be essential for everyone who is seriously interested in films, I've finally come to the 30th film, "The Life of Pi". It's last in the list only because I've ordered the films chronologically. This is a film that deals with the largest of themes in the smallest of places. Just as we can see all of the universe in Krishna's mouth, we see the struggle between man and God in a tiny lifeboat. I use the word "struggle" deliberately. When God and man meet it's not instant agreement. There's a battle to get the upper hand, at least if the man is honest. A dishonest man agrees to everything that God tells him to do, then walks away and does whatever he wants. An honest man listens to everything God says, weighing the words carefully, then replies, "But God, are you sure?"

In my review of "King Kong" two days ago I wrote that it's important to pay attention to books shown in a film, especially if a main character is reading them. "The Life of Pi" shows Pi Patel reading three books and a comic. This amount of overkill tells us that Ang Lee had something important on his mind. The four items emphasise the film's themes of religion, rationality and isolation.

In the comic we see both the closeness and the enormous size of God. Krishna is a small boy, but when his mother looks into his mouth she sees the whole universe. Only by looking at God close up can we embrace all there is.

Jules Verne's "Mysterious Island" is an interesting book to see represented in the film. In his later life Pi would be stranded on an island, but rather than remain on it for as long as possible he would take all he could from it and leave. Pi claimed to be a follower of three religions, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, while also believing in reason. The first two religions are well developed in the film, while Islam is only mentioned in passing. Pi took what he wanted from each religion, then moved on. Both religion and reason are incomplete in themselves. They complement one another in the understanding of oneself and the universe.

Next we see Pi reading a collection of Dostoyevsky's short stories, "Notes from Underground", "White Nights" and "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man". I haven't read any of these stories, unfortunately, but I've checked brief summaries to see their relevance to the film. To differing degrees, all three stories deal with a man feeling alienated in the world, unable to cope with the mass of information presented to him, and the ways in which the man attempts to cope, either by doing good deeds or by withdrawing further into himself.

"The Stranger" by Albert Camus is probably the most famous existentialist novel ever written. While it deals with many themes, what I consider most relevant in the context of the film is that Pi is a foreigner everywhere he goes. He's an eternal outsider. He grows up in India, in an area where different cultures (French, English, Muslim, Hindu) are separated by streets in the city. Crossing the road leads you into a different world. On the boat he's surrounded by Japanese sailors. At the end of his life he's in Canada teaching Jewish mysticism at university.

Here is my complete list of my 30 films to watch before you die.

  1. Earth vs Flying Saucers (1956)
  2. Faster Pussycat Kill Kill (1965)
  3. The Wild Bunch (1969)
  4. Young Frankenstein (1974)
  5. Tommy (1975)
  6. The Man who would be king (1975)
  7. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
  8. Apocalypse Now (1979)
  9. The Shining (1980)
  10. Terminator (1984)
  11. Thelma and Louise (1991)
  12. Basic Instinct (1992)
  13. Falling Down (1993)
  14. Jurassic Park (1993)
  15. Pulp Fiction (1994)
  16. Leon (1994)
  17. Mars Attacks (1996)
  18. Scream (1996)
  19. Lost Highway (1997)
  20. Dark City (1998)
  21. The Legend of 1900 (1998)
  22. The Matrix (1999)
  23. The Green Mile (1999)
  24. Donnie Darko (2001)
  25. Spider-Man (2002)
  26. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  27. The World's Fastest Indian (2005)
  28. King Kong (2005)
  29. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
  30. Life of Pi (2012)

This isn't a list of my 30 favourite films. All 30 films in the list are films I greatly enjoy, but I've given priority to the films that I consider to be important. I'll probably compile a list of my favourite films in the near future, but I shan't watch them all in sequence until 2017 at least because there will be a lot of overlap with this list.

Now it's time for me to catch up with a few films that I bought on Blu-ray during the Black Friday week.

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